Mythbusting the AV Debate

Two things have struck me about the roaring yet boring AV debate this week. First, the No campaign are either pathological liars or genuinely don’t understand the fairly simple issue. Relying on such staple claims as “A vote for AV is a vote for the BNP” and “AV will literally kill your baby” is massively irresponsible but seemingly massively effective. Second, the Yes campaign possess all the political and advertising nous of a badly diseased goat.

Making this an interesting debate. Lashings of bullshit from one side, lashings of silence from the other. So, in the interests of not letting the No campaign lie their way to victory, let’s have a quick reappraisal of the claims being made:

1) With AV, the loser wins.

Umm, no. With First Past The Post, the loser is more likely to win. The lowest ever recorded winning vote share in the UK is 26.0%. Twenty six. Nearly three in four of the people who bothered to vote in the 1992 Inverness election voted definitively against one Russell Johnston, and yet he was declared the winner. If somebody can explain how a candidate can be declared the winner of a democratic vote with 26% of voter support, please feel free.

With AV, the majority rules, as it should in a democracy. In every case the candidate who wins can safely say that they were the most preferred choice of the majority of the electorate. No more wins on tiny vote shares, but a preferred consensus. This becomes increasingly important when parties share ideological turf and fracture the vote, which is what allows people like Mr Johnston to get in with the backing of just a quarter of his voting constituents.

One of the more famous No posters has a boxing referee declaring the unconscious fighter the winner, a piece of outright falsification that is so insulting to the intelligence of the public that I’m surprised nobody’s knocked David Cameron out in delicious ironic revenge. For all the relevance this analogy has to the Alternative Vote system they might as well have displayed a poster of a lovely bowl of fruit.

“With AV, the grapes always win.”

2) AV makes coalitions inevitable.

Well, not really, but I’m pretty sure the Conservatives have been banging on about how well the coalition is working and bringing in a mature new politics of compromise and discussion. And suddenly this is now a bad thing. Hmm…

3) Most of the world don’t use AV.

Most of the world don’t have running water. What’s your point?

4) Extremists! There’ll be extremists!

People have to vote for extreme parties for them to gain seats. Don’t blame the system. If 50% of constituents most prefer a BNP candidate, that’s democracy, as well as a hilarious chance to see what would happen if the BNP tried to get any of their proposals through parliament. All together now…Bom bom bom

5) One person, one vote.

Is exactly what AV gives you. Nobody gets their vote counted twice; every set of preferences is counted in every round of voting. Which eliminates tactical voting. Which is the stalwart practice of FPTP. In fact, with the current system, many more votes are effectively discounted than with AV. Going back to our friend in Inverness, the 74% of people who didn’t vote for him might as well not have bothered. Their vote shows for nothing. With AV, the preferences of the majority of constituents is taken into account (except in the very rare case where enough people don’t rank enough candidates, so technically someone can be elected with 50% of the vote. Only themselves to blame for that though…). You know this, I know this, the No campaign knows this. Why the lies?

6) But AV is expensive!

Australia have gotten by just fine without expensive machinery for over 80 years. The figure of £250 million seems to have been plucked from thin air as the breakdown of costs is sketchy at best (thanks to Tom F for putting me on to that!). The long term plan is to automate vote counting anyway, which will cost the same whatever the system, and although we can’t afford to change our electoral system for the better, we can afford to carpet bomb Libya for no apparent reason. And that’s really, really cheap…

In fairness, AV isn’t an ideal electoral system. It’s not by any means pure democracy, and it’s not going to usher a new golden age of open and accountable, yet effective politics. For that we’d need closed-list PR, and when that happens in this country I’ll eat my own hat and the various headgear of others around me. But importantly AV is a fairer system than what we currently have. It can only be seen as a step in the right direction, but it is better than no step at all. For this reason, I’ll be voting yes to AV on the 5th of May.

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French take Frenchness to entirely new extremes

French riot police have today been told “très bien” by Nicolas Sarkozy’s Ministry of Frenchification after making one of the most stultifylingly French demands ever witnessed in human history.

The weapon-wielding violence enthusiasts have expressed their complete outrage at a law which bans them drinking at lunchtime. Yes, you did read that correctly. The officers are apparently incandescent with rage at being told they can no longer enjoy their customary beer or wine with lunch whilst on duty, a practice which formerly involved large quantities of fine Merlot and a couple of cheeky Lafites being carted along in the riot van, to be cracked open in the street. Whilst they were working. On protests. With weapons. And protesters. In a climate of hostility.

In a statement, spokesman for the police Pierre du Pierre announced the collective disgust: “If a French man cannot enjoy some fine wine, some bread smeared in a paste made of cruelty and entrails, and somebody else’s wife over lunch, then what is the point of living?”

“Henri! Bring me my cravat.”

French Riot Police: Where dangerous meets chic

Outdated national stereotypes aside, perhaps the riot police have a point. They might argue that French culture is built around casual afternoon drinking, and they might well win such an argument, but they should beware of shouting about it too loudly lest their British counterparts get wind of it and start demanding Jägerbombs with every fag break. Our riot police are probably violent enough without any chemical encouragement. Couple this with the fact that us Brits are notoriously bad at lunchtime drinking and there are compelling reasons why this debate ought to stay very much on the other side of the Channel.

I wasn’t around for the Eighties and too busy being a child to remember much of the early Nineties, but by all accounts this was the end of a golden era of British luncheon beverages. This was also the end of an era where literally nothing got done after 2pm because everybody was asleep or fighting. A relative once recalled her 21st, some 30 odd years ago, which involved “a couple of lunchtime drinks”. When pressed, the exact figures were 9 vodka and lemonades and three shots. In a 45 minute lunch break. She doesn’t remember the rest except vomiting into a stairwell down 22 floors and being found in the toilets at about 7 by a cleaner who assumed she was dead.

And they say our generation has drinking issues.

Staying with great British traditions, millions of us are off to partake in the traditional Easter weekend activity, queueing! Thousands of cars will glide onto the main roads and simultaneously stop for no reason, leaving people free to enjoy the picturesque settings of Junstion 26 of the M25. The weather is fantastic, and people are really going to make the most of it by slow-cooking themselves in an old Ford Mondeo for the majority of the weekend.

Whatever you’re up to this Easter weekend, I hope that Jesus brings you all the chocolate you could wish for. Poor guy is probably kicking himself for choosing the whole messiah business over a more lucrative career in confectionery. The man sells more creme eggs than Bibles.

Fun linked to cancer

Scientists have today confirmed that anything you could conceivably enjoy will eventually kill you. With the prized addition of alcohol, the medical world has now ‘collected the set’ of all the good things in the world and confirmed that each and every one of them will give you big nasty cancer.

This picture is highly carcinogenic

Booze, smoking, sex and sugar are being renamed “tumourfests” in homage to their supposed deadliness, as the scientific community rejoices in taking almost all the fun out of every aspect of life. A leading cancer research scientist was surprisingly frank in a recent interview:

“We’ll link anything to cancer. Doesn’t have to be true, mind, but if we say link then nobody can sue us, no matter how flimsy the evidence or misleading the statement. My personal favourite is “Doubles the risk of”, which is great because we know full well that the ‘risk’ of a particular cancer is only 0.0000001%, so if we double it there’s still fuck all chance of you getting it, but it makes a great story and I’ve got a career to further. I could say anything! Prolonged exposure to carrots is linked to cancer. Stroking this puppy is linked to cancer. I’m linked to cancer. Anything! Isn’t science great?”

When quizzed on the questionable morality of trumpeting tenuous connections between certain substances or behaviours and a life-threatening disease, the scientist was somewhat more pragmatic:

“Basically we need the money. Well, not need the money, but want it. And the only way to get the money is to do a very preliminary study and then make wildly bold claims about everything giving you cancer. Then they start giving you research funding to further research the bold claim and find that the claim was exactly as dodgy as when you first made it. At which point, you don’t really give a toss because all that research money has kept you in fine burgundy for a couple of years.”

“Look, I don’t make the rules.”

In realistic terms, if everything that was ever linked to cancer gave you cancer then you wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning without a dirty great lump springing up on your arm. As to the question of why it’s only ever the fun stuff, the official answer is that the fun stuff sells more newspapers. The news that each drink is sending you closer to an early grave is much more likely to grab attention than, say, each time you mow the lawn sending you to an early grave. Ambiguous science, sensationalist journalism and slow news days combine to cause mass panic about what’s going to kill us all next.

Don’t worry about it. Or you’ll get cancer.